What Is technology doing FOR us and what is it doing TO us?
I quite simply LOVE this quote. It comes from Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at MIT, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2004. Turkle is a well-known and respected scholar that has produced some amazing work on the evolving nature of human beings’ relationships with technology. (See some of my favorite books of hers below.)
The reason why the above quote resonates with me so much is the fact that it recognizes that technology is not merely a tool that does something “for” us, but it is also doing something to us. It is changing us–including the way we interact and work. This was highly evident in my research when students discussed the different ways they accessed news and communicated with each other. It’s not just a different medium for consuming information and conversing, but it actually changes our habits. For instance, we now consume information in more bite-size, on-the-go, mobile chunks. We receive alerts as soon as breaking news happens, and sometimes we get it direct from the source and people “on the ground.” This isn’t just an evolved form of a newspaper, but a very different way of consuming information that has implications for how we act and react to news. Credibility, truth, and the need for critical media literacy are now more important than ever since the means of publication has been democratized.
Technology might also be changing who we are. Although not as conclusive in my research, my study did provides hints of how a more “techno-evolved” being might behave. When technology is deeply integrated into our lives, new patterns begin to emerge. Some of the students in my study described their online social media profiles as quite literally an extension of themselves. If they were to lose access to a profile or account, it would be more akin to a loss of a part of themselves. In a way, for these students, their lives are not just lived through their physical bodies, but also virtually online. Their developmental and meaning making patterns look somewhat different from those who came before them. For students exhibiting these changes, information is embedded far more deeply in relationships, contextual allegiances, and in-network.
What technology is doing to us is potentially changing the very nature of who human beings are.